Bhutan Diaries: A Thimphu Library Like No Other

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Morning in Thimphu starts with bird chirping, a chilly nip in the air, and the buzz of morning walkers who are mostly locals offering prayers, again in that strangely convincing cosmic order. A quick breakfast and we are all set to explore. Our hotel, Amodhara, stands at the far end of Thimphu past the local markets, near the official and cultural center of the city.

Our walk led us to what looked like an administrative complex (something you will see everywhere in Bhutan), with the Library being the most attractive stop. I spent an hour sketching it, while the office woke up to its schedule lazily, with employees trickling in, in their typical style, in cars, cycles and even walking in leisurely in some cases. A common trait being the laid back look on their faces and the occasional idyllic smile. I realized it has been close to a decade since I stepped into an actual library.

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The heavy silence, the fragrance of old books, and the utter peace were familiar. Libraries have always felt to me like a large ancient Banyan tree, intimidating yet warm, with some stories hidden beneath the overgrown branches and the promises of many more waiting to sprout.

What sets this one, the Bhutan National Library, apart is that it is built like a traditional temple, or Lakhanga. The first thing you notice after stepping into the library is an ornate shrine.

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“Bhutan: A Visual Odyssey Across the Last Himalayan Kingdom” created by a team from MIT’s Media Lab

The largest published book in the world in 2003. This tome weighs over 60 kgs. It is 1.52 meters high and 2.13 meters wide and I was told that its pages are turned once a month.

Unexpected connection – Karmic connection, maybe?

Near the alter, are kept several attractions … two of which caught my attention. A wooden bowl with Pattachitra paintings from Orissa and another with Mysore-style leaf patterns. The former is where I was born and the latter in a state which has adopted me.

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“The Bowl of Friendship”
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Titled “The Ring of Wisdom”

Only the ground floor has books bound in the western style.

The books in the upper floors belong to traditional Buddhist form. These books are written on  pecha (looseleaf) strips which are pressed between wooden pieces, and wrapped in embroidered silk.

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The first floor houses traditional books written in Chokey, the classical script of the Himalayan Buddhist world.  All the traditional books have wrappings that are color coded as per the schools of Buddhism.  The wooden beams here are inscribed with the saying – Mani Mantra,Om Mani Padme Hum, invoking Chenrezig, the Buddha in his compassion aspect.

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Books come in all shapes and sizes and textures

The second floor entirely comprises works from the Nyingma (Ancient) tradition of Bhutan and Tibet. The wooden beams here are inscribed with the saying – Om Ah Hum Vajra Guru Padma Siddhi Hum , invoking Guru Rinpoche.

The top floor holds a collection of texts of the Kagyu (Oral Lineage or Whispered Transmission) school. The mantra written on the crossbeams is Om Ami Dhewa Hri, invoking the Amitabha Buddha.

The pin-drop silence, bright interiors, and stillness created a moment so unique. Enchanting, enthralling, yet supremely inconsequential.  I sat there for a while soaking in the silence and admired the magic play of bright sunlit air between these wooden walls.

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Feels like floating on sunshine
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An altar of books
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The paused moment
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Stepping in … Stepping out
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Waving goodbye …

 

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